The Mom Whose Pregnancy Hardships Gave Her Patience

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Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc/Getty Images

Elise married her college sweetheart when she was 24. Parenthood felt inevitable but hazy to both of them, until a medical diagnosis sped up the conversation. After trying for six months in their late 20s, the couple saw a fertility doctor who recommended going straight to IVF. She discusses IVF being like a full-time job, the impossible questions that led to a difficult decision to terminate, what it feels like to know you’re going to miscarry, and the reason she’s a more patient parent.

On trying to get pregnant. I got married when I was 24, to my college sweetheart. Parenthood wasn’t something we were thinking about yet, but then he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Once that happened, we started thinking a lot more about having kids. It was a big turning point — life felt a lot more serious. There was less time.

Over the next few years, I was a little more ready than he was. Then, right around the time I turned 28, he was like, okay, let’s do this. We started trying, and we tried for six months.

I’m a type-A person, so I’d done all the research — I was tracking my cycle and timing everything. When it wasn’t working, I started to get really upset. It started to become more of an obsession. Eventually, I went to the doctor to get checked out. Once we started doing testing, the doctor discovered some fertility issues. He suggested we go straight to IVF, because starting with anything else would just be a waste of time.

On everyday life during fertility treatments. IVF is crazy. The appointments feel like a job; they take over your life. So many people told us it would work out — but what if it didn’t? What if we never had kids? Doing IVF made me reevaluate a lot. I have a career in education, which works well with having a family. We’d just bought a house near my parents. I keep thinking, Well, why didn’t I quit my job and move across the country, if I’m never going to have kids? Looking back at my choices, everything felt set up perfectly to have children. It wasn’t exactly deliberate, but that’s how it all turned out.

During the first cycle of IVF, I told everyone. We had friends we went out with every weekend; I wasn’t drinking, so it was hard to hide what was going on. At work, I had to come in late because of the appointments, so my co-workers knew. I’m not a great liar; I couldn’t just make something up.

On waiting for test results. The first cycle didn’t work. I felt sad, but okay — we went out to sushi the night we got the news. I already knew IVF wasn’t going to be easy. The second cycle, I did get pregnant. Everything seemed fine. We did a nuchal screening, and that seemed fine too. Around 17 weeks, I had a long ultrasound. We found out it was a boy. The technician kept going in and out of the room, then the doctor came in. Finally, they told me there was a bright spot in the heart and the bladder. They said it could be Down syndrome, or something else, or nothing. They said most of the time it was nothing. They recommended an amnio and a fetal echocardiogram.

Two days later, I had an amnio. Within a week, you get the preliminary results, which are about the top three disorders. Everything was fine. I started to feel a little more relaxed, but it was going to be another few weeks before they could get the results of a microarray, which looks closer at every chromosome. It was hard, because there was blood in my amniotic fluid — so it took a long time for anything to culture. People I spoke to kept saying, Oh, I had an amnio; it’s fine. But they didn’t realize I was having a microarray, which was something else and new at the time.

Then, at the fetal echocardiogram, we found out the fetus had what’s called tetralogy of fallot. We were rushing between specialists to find out more. One doctor explained that it would be okay; there’s an Olympic skiier who has it. Our baby might not be that kind of athlete, but he would be okay, even though he would need open-heart surgery after he was born. I spent two weeks researching congenital heart defects and looking at parent groups for CHD online.

At 23 weeks, we got the microarray results: A part of a chromosome was missing. There was no known syndrome with that deletion. The doctor said, “If you want to end the pregnancy, you don’t have much time.” I was like, What are you talking about? What does this mean?

They tested us to see if we had the deletion. If we had it, then it might mean that everything might be okay, that what was missing wasn’t meaningful. I thought my husband might have it — since he has M.S., maybe something was connected there. But a week later, we got the results: Neither of us had the deletion.

On answering impossible questions. We went to pediatric neurologists and geneticists, trying to get more and more information about what this might mean. Doctors kept asking me questions like, “What kind of special-needs child would you be able to handle?”

I work with special-needs kids every day. There’s a huge variety, a huge range. No one could tell me exactly what this deletion might mean. There was no clear-cut answer. At first, a microdeletion seemed small to me — I thought, maybe it’s not that important. But the more we learned, the more the doctors were able to tell us that it was a big deletion. That, combined with the heart defect, would be a syndrome. We just didn’t know what it would mean exactly.

I was 24 weeks pregnant. It was the hardest decision of my life. It was such a wanted pregnancy — I’d been trying so long. It was September. Everyone knew because I was almost six months pregnant. You could tell by looking at me.

We went to the appointment, and they used a needle to stop the heartbeat. Then you have to wait two days. The next day, I went to work with a dead baby inside me, basically. We went to the hospital the day after that. They had to induce me; it was almost a 24-hour labor.

After I delivered, I couldn’t look at the baby. I was screaming. I was having an out-of-body experience. Now I feel so bad: I didn’t see him, I didn’t hold him. At the time, I felt so crazy. The month between finding out something was wrong and the end was all about getting medical information. I wasn’t emotionally prepared at all. I don’t think I’d ever seen my husband cry before this. We were in the hospital for the weekend, and then we went home, by ourselves.

On late-term abortions. Even now, sometimes I have thoughts about what happened. I’ll meet someone with a disability and worry I made the wrong choice. I’ll wonder if he would have been okay. But then I tell myself that it wouldn’t have been a life to live. A therapist told me that I have these regrets because I didn’t want this to happen. No matter how it would have happened, I didn’t want this to happen. When it was actually happening, it felt so quick, because we were coming up on the time when we might have had to go to another state to have the termination.

I want people to know my story because I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about late-term abortion. It’s not irresponsible people who are just waiting months and months to have an abortion. There’s all this new information, all this new technology we don’t quite know how to use yet. We’re finding things out when we can, and doing everything we can to make these decisions. It takes time.

Still, I was lucky in so many ways. For me, it happened in a hospital, with great doctors and nurses. A social worker came to talk to me. I was not shamed at all.

On the grieving process. My friends and family were very supportive. I didn’t really know how to handle it, but a lot of people came by that week, as though I had lost a child. I have an older Italian aunt, who I don’t always talk to in depth because of the language barrier. She came over and told me about a miscarriage she’d had when she was first married. So many people came over and brought food or sent cards. I work with elementary-school kids, who all knew I’d been pregnant. They were so sweet: They’d say, “Oh, you must be so sad.” Or, “That happened to my mom, too.”

I can see why people want to keep things like this private, but then you’re just alone. For me, I think having people know was a good thing. I also joined a support group for people who had medical terminations. It was so helpful, because I knew people who’d had miscarriages, but not people who’d had this awful decision to make.

In the months after the termination, I did have panic attacks. My husband would help me through them. Even little things — we were watching Friends and Rachel had a baby and he’d change the channel. Even if it was just a commercial  with a baby, sometimes he’d get up and change the channel without saying anything.

On yearning to be pregnant again. After that, I became even more obsessed with having a baby. I felt this emptiness, where the baby would have been. At one point, I’d thought my story was the worst, just having to do IVF. It felt unbelievable: Such a bad thing, after one already-bad thing. I felt like I was paying all this money — on purpose! — for something that tortured me.

I went to a new clinic, to start fresh. We went through another cycle, and it didn’t work. Then I did one more, and I got pregnant again. The termination was in September; I was pregnant again in August. From the beginning, the levels were low — at seven weeks, they told me they weren’t great. At eight weeks, they said I’d have a miscarriage, there was no heartbeat. I didn’t know whether to have a D&C or try to wait it out. It’s kind of strange, to know you’re definitely going to miscarry. A few days later, I ended up having a miscarriage at home.

The miscarriage affected me, but I had become so hardened. Or, not exactly hardened — because it was still emotional. But I was really starting to think nothing would ever work out for me, in this area.

On getting pregnant again. It was the third cycle, the last one insurance covered. I began to wonder how far we would go with this. It felt like something bad would happen again, even though the doctor was telling me each one was a random fluke. We tried again in December, and I did get pregnant.

The whole pregnancy, I felt excited and attached. But I still didn’t believe a baby was really coming; I wasn’t putting furniture together or anything like that. My husband felt similarly. We were both feeling tentative.

At 20 weeks, I went for an anatomy scan, and they told me I would have to come back the next week because they weren’t able to get a good look at everything. I really didn’t want to do that; every time I went to an appointment I’d have to lie in that dark room, building myself up through the flashbacks. When we finally went back the next week, nothing was wrong at all. I was almost in shock.

On life as a mom. When she came home from the hospital, I’d still think, wait, that’s my daughter? I’d walk down the street with the stroller and catch a glimpse of myself in the window. Oh my god, I’m a mom? I still had some of those feelings of disbelief, I think, because of everything I’d been through.

For the year after the loss, I felt like I had to tell everyone I met, or they wouldn’t know me. The first time I really felt healed was when I had my daughter. Since having her, I don’t think about it every day. Before, it was an everyday thing — everything reminded me of it.

At work, I was fairly open about what happened to me. While I was on maternity leave, a co-worker who’s fairly private texted me, saying that she understood if I didn’t want to talk about it, but that something similar was happening to her. I felt like, Okay, here we go. Now you’re here to help other people. I didn’t have anyone like that when I went through it, and I’m glad to be able to do that for other people.

But even after everything that happened, the beginning was still hard. I cried one night, wishing I were still pregnant. I couldn’t believe that I tried so hard for three years to have this screaming person who wouldn’t let me sleep and pooped all over me. One moment I’d be absolutely overwhelmed with love, hearts and stars floating around my head; the next moment, I’d be like, Why did I do this? She’s trying to kill me. It’s impossible to really prepare for having a baby.

I’m in a neighborhood parent group, and sometimes the things people freak out about seem minor to me. I’ve been through therapy and I’ve thought a lot about life, in a big, overall way; those kinds of minor things don’t bother me. I have a lot more patience. I’d be a different parent, I think, if all of this hadn’t happened.

The Mom Whose Pregnancy Hardships Gave Her Patience